Spotlight Article
Aligning Every Unit in the Reading and Writing Workshop with the CCSS
June 12, 2011 at 3:17pm

The Reading and Writing Project had access to drafts of the Common Core State Standards from a very early point on, and the organization has now spent eighteen months revising our work so every aspect of it is absolutely aligned to the standards. We've led a score of large institutes and conference days on the topic, and this summer our Founding Director, Lucy Calkins, and the Deputy Director for Middle Schools, Mary Ehrenworth, are finishing a book which is tentatively called, Pathways to the Common Core State Standards. The book should be available through Heinemann by November. The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project has also embarked on an effort to author the Common Core State Standards library from Scholastic.

Every unit of the Reading and Writing Project's K-8 curriculum for the reading and writing workshop has been either totally rewritten or largely rewritten. Electronic versions of these curriculum will be available at a minimal price ($10 or less, depending on the size of an order) from Heinemann within the month. These are an example of some of the changes:

 A new unit has been written on the research-based argument essay. This unit is for grades 5, 7 and perhaps 8, and it teaches students that once they have read across texts on a topic, including reading some texts that present conflicting information, they can write argument essays in which they take a stance, present evidence to support that stance, weighing the warrant behind the evidence and analyzing the different perspectives the texts they read took on the topic.

 A strand of opinion/argument writing units run through the entire curriculum, starting with kindergarten writing list books on their likes and dislikes, including persuasive letters and reviews in the first and second grade, and leading towards the research based argument essays described above. Many of these units were already in the curriculum, but the specific expectations of the CCSS are now embedded into these, and in some instances, new units have been developed. The units fit tongue and groove with each other.

 A strand of information writing runs through the entire curriculum, and in each grade, students write information texts that are based on topics of personal expertise and also write information texts that are based on information reading and research. Many of these units were already in the curriculum, but in a number of instances, new units have been developed. Of course the units are exactly aligned to the CCSS.

 There are 3.5-4 nonfiction reading units in each year, making nonfiction reading comprise almost 40% of the reading workshop. The CCSS call for nonfiction to be 45% of the entire school day (K-5) so this emphasis on nonfiction exceeds that of the Common Core State Standards.

 An increased emphasis on comparing and contrasting texts and on thinking across texts has been woven into many reading units. For example, in a number of grades, the work on character ends with students comparing characters across books. What is the role this character plays in this book? What other books have you read where a character plays a similar role? How does that character differ?

 New attention has been paid to the levels of text complexity that students should be reading, and the expectations are high. At the start of every month's unit of study, the benchmark level expected for students at the grade is referenced. Teachers are reminded frequently to re-assess, and to use one of a score of techniques to move kids into more complex texts when indications suggest that they might be ready.

 There is a strong emphasis on helping students progress along a trajectory of development in interpretation and critical reading. Units that might appear, at first glance, to be genre based (units in mystery, historical fiction, and fantasy, for example) are all angled so that students learn to read these texts not just for plot but for theme, perspective, and power. Each of these units ends with compare-and-contrast, cross-text work.

 Writing is first taught within the writing workshop, where students choose their own topics and progress through the writing process. This is the forum in which writing skills are first developed. But the writing skills are given legs, and travel across the curriculum, both to writing-about-reading and to content area literacy.

In addition, the Reading and Writing Project has developed a content literacy curriculum, with month-by-month units supporting students to develop analytic skills in writing and reading within the content areas.

Finally, Calkins and others from the Reading and Writing Project have developed Common Core aligned, curriculum embedded, ACHIEVE approved, performance assessments that will be used across New York City schools and will be available to others as well. The organization has developed a whole toolkit of these assessments. The ones that have, thus far, been put through the approval process involve argument writing about information reading and pertain to grades 2, 5, and 8. The Reading and Writing Project has also developed a tool for tracking writers' progress in Opinion, Informational and Narrative Writing. This tool is already being employed in hundreds of schools and a version of it is available on our website.